LISBON — A row of trees a fly ball from Lisbon’s City Park is all that separated U.S. Highway 30 from high school athletic nobility Friday night.
Playing in virtually adjoining ball fields in the park, the Lisbon baseball and softball teams had vastly different results this hot evening. The baseball team rolled over Northeast High of Goose Lake, 17-0, to remain the state’s only unbeaten club in that sport at 27-0. The Class 1A Lions’ softballers entered the game with a 29-5 mark, but had an 11-game winning streak ended with an 8-0 loss to next-door neighbor Class 3A Mount Vernon.
Nonetheless, there were things to be celebrated by the Lisbon softball community, and they were. Before the game, the Seniors Night ceremony was held. Or rather, Senior Night. Maddie Morningstar was presented with a gift basket while the public-address announcer cited her accomplishments.
First-team All-Tri Rivers Conference in softball last year. Competed in track, cross country and volleyball. Student council president. National Honor Society. Participated in FFA and 4H. Plans to attend the University of Iowa to study nursing.
“Thank you, Maddie, for all your honors and for being part of our lives,” the announcer said as her teammates and the fans applauded.
Then, Lisbon’s Bob Bunting was recognized for being named the softball Coach of the Year by National High School Coaches Association. The same organization put Bunting in its Hall of Fame two years ago, 16 years after he entered the Iowa Girls Coaches Associaton’s Softball Hall of Fame.
That ceremony was about as brief as one could be. Bunting walked onto the field, listened to the announcer’s words about him, then walked off to go about the business of coaching his 1,778th game at Lisbon, spanning 49 seasons. Games 1,779, 1,780 and 1,781 were Saturday in a tourney at Bellevue.
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Bunting is 73, not that you could tell it from looking at him. His rationale for continuing to coach the Lions is a good one: He likes it.
“If it’s not fun, I’m done,” he said. “The work ethic and the interest in the game from the girls has been pretty consistent. I don’t think that’s changed.”
His teams won state titles in 1994, 1995 and 1996, as is duly noted behind the right-field fence. As is a sign that lets you know this is Bunting Field.
“There’s an air of respect around him,” said Lisbon baseball coach Travis Bennett. “You can tell how everyone respects him. He’s a no-nonsense kind of guy, and keeps it simple. He’ll make sure his girls are ready for the tournament. They play all kinds of competition, 4A teams, 3A teams. He’s not just collecting a check.”
The softball team has a town institution as its coach. The baseball team has a 30-year-old in his second year on the job. It’s all good.
Bennett’s baseball Lions do have seniors, several. They’re very good. Examples are Brett Givens and Austin Krob, both pitchers with 7-0 records who are hitting close to .500.
Lisbon’s sole baseball state title was in 1994. This year’s team thinks it can add another.
The Lions got to state last year, losing a 4-3, 11-inning quarterfinal to Akron-Westfield.
Before Game 27 on a hot summer night after having played a doubleheader the night before, the Lions were sluggish once the game began. Well, for one inning.
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The game was scoreless after the first frame. After two, Lisbon led 15-0. Its guys crush the ball.
While Bunting is stoic during games, Bennett says “I like to chatter a lot, bring some energy to the field. There isn’t as much of that now as when I played,” which wasn’t all that long ago.
Bennett, from Cedar Rapids, played baseball at Kirkwood Community College, Northern Iowa and Wichita State (after UNI dropped its baseball program). That means he played for John Lewis, Rick Heller (now at Iowa) and Gene Stephenson, who have a combined 3,795 wins.
A short walk from where Bennett got career win No. 58 Friday, cupcakes were offered to players and spectators after the softball game to commemorate Bunting’s recent national honor.
But what mattered, as usual, was what was ahead. The Lions were on the road Saturday morning, for a 10:30 a.m. game they won against Bellevue, 7-0. A good bounce-back, a sign of a good team.
“A successful season,” Bunting said, “is if I feel the kids improved from the start of the season to the end. I think everything else falls into place.”
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